This year, South Africa will host the World Cup, a first for both the country and the continent. At a time when nearly half the world's eyes will be on Africa, we need them to look beyond the football arena to recognize the significant challenges this continent faces when it comes to educating its children.
Thanks to a new campaign inspired by some of the world's most celebrated footballers, fans now have the chance to do just this as easily as tuning into the matches. It's called 1Goal and it's backed by not only the world's best footballers, but also by the biggest clubs and the sport's governing body, FIFA. The campaign calls on governments in Africa and around the globe to pledge to send every child to school. It also asks fans around the world to sign-up to pledge support on our website; the "goal" is to secure 72 million people.
Why 72 million? Because that's the number of children in the world who don't go to school, and many of them are in Africa. Education should be a right for every child but tragically, in many parts of world, it is a privilege for a chosen few.
I am one of the lucky ones. Five years ago, at the age of 38, I went back to school. I had played football for 20 years for some of the best clubs in the world but had never had the chance to finish my education. So I moved to Florida and enrolled at Devry University. I am majoring in Business Administration and will be graduating next summer with a bachelor's degree.
I can afford to pay for my education and can travel to the United States to get an education. It was not always like this for me. When I was growing up in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, I sold doughnuts, popcorn and Cool Aid every day after school so that my family had some money and I could pay my school fees. It was a tough life. My father died when I was young and I was raised by my grandmother, Emma Klonjlaleh Brown. We could afford to eat chicken just once a year, on Christmas.
Football gave me a chance that few other Liberians have had. Around 80 percent of Liberians are unemployed and only half of all children go to primary school. Just one in 20 go on to secondary school. Young children are on the streets instead of in the classrooms. We are not giving them the opportunity to learn and they will struggle to get jobs when they grow up. Without proper education, Liberia will not progress.
We are also calling directly on world leaders to do their part. During the World Cup, world leaders will gather in South Africa to participate in a global education summit. While I appreciated their enthusiasm for the subject, they must also know that they are accountable to deliver on promises to provide funding for education. We are calling on African leaders to pledge 20 percent of their budget on education, but we also need help from the West. If rich countries gave an extra $12 billion a year between now and 2015, then every child could finally get an education.
This can be done. In the past 10 years 40 million more children around the world have gone to school -- but we need to do more.
With increased financial commitments, African and developing countries around the world can build high quality schools and hire highly qualified teachers. In America, where I have been studying, every school and every community has a library where students can gather to read, research and study. This is not the case in Africa, nor is it the case in many countries around the globe. Every day there are new books coming out and new ideas being discussed, but these new books and ideas don't reach Africa, and we are being left behind.
Africa must increase its standards. Hiring qualified (and more) teachers is crucial to this happening. With well-trained and well-paid teachers we can create good learning environments in schools which will help more children. Too often, teachers are faced with too many students and too little resources. Smaller class sizes will make it easier for teachers to teach.
Africa has to adapt if our future is to be better than our past. Every African -- and indeed, every child around the globe -- should have the opportunity to go to school like me. Our future depends on education for all. If we come together we can make that dream a reality.
George Weah is a Liberian politician and former football forward. He spent 14 years of his professional football career playing for clubs in France, Italy, and England, winning titles in these three countries. Weah is a 1GOAL Ambassador.